The top two officials at Homeland Security were illegally moved into those jobs, the government’s top watchdog said Friday, casting a legal cloud over every move the two men have made in the months since they took office.

The top two officials at Homeland Security were illegally moved into those jobs, the government’s top watchdog said Friday, casting a legal cloud over every move the two men have made in the months since they took office.

The top two officials at Homeland Security were illegally moved into those jobs, the government’s top watchdog said Friday, casting a legal cloud over every move the two men have made in the months since they took office.
The Government Accountability Office said there was a legal chain of succession that should have kicked in after Secretary Kirstjjen Nielsen was ousted last year, with the department’s director of cybersecurity taking over.
Instead, President Trump installed Kevin McAleenan, who was at the time running the department’s border agency. Mr. McAleenan then created a new chain of succession, but because he was not legally in the top job, that order was illegal.
And that has tainted all of the decisions since, including when Mr. McAleenan departed and Chad Wolf was elevated to acting secretary, and when Ken Cuccinelli was named top official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. Cuccinelli now serves in the role of acting deputy secretary at the department.
Thomas H. Armstrong, GAO’s general counsel, said they didn’t review the decisions all of those men made — including weighty policies carrying out Mr. Trump’s stiff immigration agenda. But he said there are legal questions about those decisions.
He said GAO was referring those thorny questions to the Homeland Security inspector general.
Democrats called the ruling “damning.”
Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, who respectively chair the Homeland Security and Oversight committees, said both Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli should immediately step down.
“GAO’s damning opinion paints a disturbing picture of the Trump administration playing fast and loose by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement.
GAO said the Vacancies Reform Act and Homeland Security rules set out chains of succession, and the Trump administration repeatedly went around that.
Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The question of whether Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. Wolf are properly serving is already being grappled with by some courts in challenges to policies they have overseen.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled this spring that Mr. Cuccinelli was not properly serving as acting head of USCIS. The judge then invalidated two asylum policies Mr. Cuccinelli had put in place during his time at the agency.
Questions over Homeland Security are the latest in a long line of difficulties Mr. Trump has faced on the personnel side of things.
Nearly half of the top jobs at the department and its major agencies are either vacant or being held by someone in an acting capacity.
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